Messaging apps have given all of us an amazing ability to send messages, pictures and video back and forth without spending money on SMS’s. Children have taken up messaging apps with gusto! They can communicate from their mobile devices without a phone plan using just Wi Fi Internet. But not all messaging apps are created equal. Some are simply downright dangerous. I’m often asked for recommendations for safer messaging apps for kids.
An appropriate messaging app for kids, has to –
- Be one that kids are all happy to use, because if you do find a specially designed kid friendly message app, there’s a risk that you won’t be able to get your child’s friends all onto the same app also.
- Be age appropriate, and one which allows use by children with adult supervision in their terms of service and conditions.
- Have easy to set privacy settings that actually do block stranger messages, and one that is easy for both parents and children to use.
- Have parental supervision abilities, where you can vet their friend connections and keep an eye on the conversations and media that is being shared within the app.
Due to these important requirements I can only really suggest Apple’s Messaging app, (previously called iMessage) and Skype.
IMPORTANT: No Messaging App Is Absolutely Safe For Children!
All messaging apps used by children need adult supervision. No messaging app is absolutely safe, because kids can tease and bully through messaging apps, and can send inappropriate media and links via messaging apps. I’ve heard stories of younger kids in primary school being subjected to abuse and disgusting language by another student from the same school using Skype, because no adult was supervising at the time. Another incident I’m aware of was of an 11 year old sending a link to a pornographic website within Skype chat to a group, where the children were all exposed to this site, because no adult content filters had been enabled on their devices or the internet source at the time, and there was no supervising adult. It is essential that younger children who use a messaging app always an adult present online with them.
Privacy settings are essential for messaging apps, setting them prevents total strangers from contacting your child. Privacy settings preventing approaches by strangers are not enabled by default on messaging apps. Message app users must set them to have them enabled. If you don’t set the privacy settings on your child’s messaging app, they are very likely to be contacted by an adult within minutes of signing up to the app. I know of some incidents where young children have been groomed by adults through Skype, simply because the parents didn’t know about the existence of the privacy and blocking settings, and left the child unsupervised. Some messaging apps have less than secure privacy settings that simply don’t block approaches by strangers. Kik messenger is one of these apps with insecure privacy settings. Kik is not suitable for children, it is rated 17+ on the app store, and doesn’t have secure privacy settings. All messages get through and cannot be prevented. It is also impossible for parents to supervise their child on Kik by sharing an account with their child, unlike other safer messaging apps. More on Kik Messenger Here:
How To Share An Apple Messages Account With Your Child For Supervision Purposes
Apple’s iMessage only works on Apple devices, including Apple computers/iPods/iPads/iPhones. So this message app might be limited if your child’s friend’s only have Windows or Android devices. But iMessage (or Messages as it is now called), has very simple privacy settings (see below), parents can supervise their child’s messages in real time by setting up a feed from their child’s messenger account on to the adults messenger account.
How To Set Up Apple Messages To Share:
It is best to set up your child’s device with their own Apple I.D. Apple’s family Sharing set up now allows for younger children to have their own I.D with permission from their parent. On an Apple Family Sharing account you can set up the child’s device using their own Apple I.D and password. See the Link above for more details.
Note: Multiple Logins?
If your family is sharing an Apple mobile device, you might have some difficulty making the device suitable for all age groups. To make the device secure you would need to set all parental controls to be appropriate for the age of the youngest child. It is a difficult task to reset them with appropriate limits for older siblings or parents for shared use.
It is easier to set up an apple laptop or P.C with multiple logins set at different levels for different age groups. See my manual for settings for multiple accounts with parental controls on both Windows and Apple Devices.
To Supervise Your Child’s Apple Messenger Account On Mobile (iPad/iPod/iPhone).
- Set up an Apple I.D for your child or add them to a Family account click this Link: to find out how. You will also need to set up the child’s new iCloud email address on either their device or your own through Settings/mail settings, to receive a verification email.
- Go to your child’s mobile device, and then to – Settings/Messages and enable the iMessage – setting to “on” (green) on your child’s device. Messenger if not previously enabled, is now enabled. Set up this messenger with the child’s Apple I.D and password.
- On your child’s device go to Settings – scroll down to Messages – Scroll down to “Send & Receive” Click – and in the next screen add your child’s Apple I.D email, (i.e. John email@example.com) and un-tick any others that are enabled there including your own. (To finalise set up of the extra email. you will need to verify via an email sent your child’s new email account).
- Make sure that the setting “Start New Conversations From” is set to your child’s new iCloud email address. (sometimes you won’t see this setting if there is no other email address set up on the device).
- Turn off “Send as SMS” if you don’t want your child sending messages on their device as SMS (this only applies if they have an iPhone or 3G/4G iPad)
- Then on your own mobile device go to the same settings Settings/Messages/Send & Receive – add your child’s Apple I.D iCloud email address along with your own. Both now activated through the settings to receive messages from both accounts.
- Then on your own device scroll down to “Start New Conversations From” in the same screen and select your email address to send messages from, not your child’s – exit out to save.
Your child can now use iMessage on their iPad/iPod/iPhone. They then need to give their email address to family and close friends for them to contact them on iMessage. You will see a feed from your child’s Apple message account but your child will not see your private messages.
If you don’t want to set up Apples Family Sharing account, any email address your child uses can be set up with Messages, as long as you enter it in their Message app, and in yours.
Where Are The Privacy/Security Settings:
To prevent your child from getting direct messages from people not approved by you or already included in your child’s device address book you need to set up the “Filter Unknown Senders” toggle.
On your child’s mobile device go to:
- Settings/Messages/Filter Unknown Senders and switch the toggle to the on position (green) Exit back out of settings to save.
- Make sure the Keep Messages setting above the filter setting is set to Forever. This setting ensures your child’s message history is not automatically deleted.
To Enable Shared Messenger On An Apple P.C or Laptop:
- Go to the Apple Messages app in your finder and open.
- Go to the top menu and select the Messages Menu/Preferences/Accounts/Add Email. Add your child’s Apple I.D email address to your PC iMessages account. Make sure “Start New Messages From” is set to your email address.
- Message Privacy settings on Apple P.C or Laptops are Open Messager – Messages Menu/Preferences/General – un-tick Notify Me About Messages From Unknown Contacts – exit out of preferences to save.
If your child also wants to use FaceTime Apple’s video messaging app, you need to add your child’s iCloud email to your FaceTime settings. Settings/Facetime
How To Share A Skype Account With Your Child For Supervision
Skype is a reliable text/video/voice messenger with easy to set privacy settings (See Below) Skype can be set up on most devices, Apple, Android, Kindle Fire, And Windows, both mobile and desktop devices.
Sharing An Account
You can share an account with your child by simply signing into their account at the same time as your child is using it on your P.C or your mobile device, or sign in another time to check after use. It is easy to log into different Skype accounts on the one device. You can log out of your child’s and log back into your own any time. If you are allowing your child to use your account be aware they may see messages directed to you, so it is very important that for younger children they have direct supervision.
Be sure you set the privacy settings to retain history of conversations on your child’s device so you can view it when necessary. You could have one specific device of yours only set up with your child’s Skype address to supervise it. Make sure you have notifications set so that you know when a message is being sent to your child.
As your child gets older you will probably find they won’t want to share an account with you any longer, and when they are old and mature enough to start messaging on their own, it is still a good idea for younger teens to allow mum or dad to check in from time to time to their account to check that all is ok. It can be part of your contract of use with your child until you feel comfortable trusting them on their own. But I always recommend that you check in with your child, not behind their back, unless you have a crisis and your child is in very real danger.
Use A Fake Name
If you do decide to allow your child to have their own account make sure you set your child’s account up with a pseudonym so that their real name can’t be searched for. They can then give out their special user name only to approved friends. New friends have to send a friend request first before the first message is sent and recieved. Make sure you enable all these privacy settings, set all contacts only, and make sure your child doesn’t publicise their user name anywhere.
For reasons of full disclosure and privacy be sure you alert other parents and their children that you are supervising the chats. You may find that other parents object to this for their own reasons.
Remember children need constant supervision on messaging apps.
- Be sure they only message where you can keep an eye on them
- Share an account until they are old enough
- Make sure you know all their friends and their parents
- Set up adult content filters set up on their device and on the family internet.
Links To Important Settings:
My Manual “Keeping Kids Safe Online” has all the most up to date privacy and safety settings for parents to enable on computers and mobile devices.
Leonie Presents Cyber Safety Talks for schools, business, and community groups.